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A as in Alpha – Know The Phonetic Alphabet

Everyone should know the phonetic alphabet. If you are not familiar with it, the common ICAO Phonetic Alphabet is a “language” for spelling out terms; which is used by radio operators, such as pilots and soldiers. It assigns the letters of the alphabet with common words that sound uniquely different from each other.  For example, “Charlie”, “Echo”, and “Papa” are used instead of the similarly sounding “C”, “E”, and “P”.  Numbers are also included, but the emphasis is on pronunciation and not assigning numbers to specific words.  An example is that ”3” is said as “Tree”.
Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, ...



Using the phonetic alphabet in conversations in which you need to spell out words makes them precise and succinct. Say for example you are talking with a customer service representative, and you need to spell out the name “Alphonso”. Without a common, standard phonetic alphabet, it might sound like, “A as in apple, L as in uhhh lantern, P as in pencil…” Clumsy. It doesn’t come across well and it’s a tedious way to speak.

Another way is to use the phonetic alphabet. “Alpha, Lima, Papa, Hotel, Oscar, November, Sierra, Oscar.” Done. It’s quick, clear, and easy!

When both people know the same phonetic alphabet, it really streamlines verbal spellings. Even if you already know the phonetic alphabet, you can’t necessarily jump right in and start using it. What if you start rattling off phonetic words to someone who isn’t familiar with speaking that way? It may throw them for a loop, and hence require clarification.

Thankfully though, the phonetic alphabet is simple and fun to learn. Once you’ve gotten the hang of speaking phonetically, it quickly becomes second nature.

..., X-ray, Yankee, Zulu



Interestingly, the US armed services adopted the ICAO phonetic alphabet in 1956. In the 15 years preceding this, the US Army and Navy used the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet. Though identical in intent as the ICAO alphabet, the words it uses are notably different. Anyone who’s seen an old WWII movie will recognize familiar terms such as, “Able”, “Baker”, “Charlie”, “Dog”, “Easy”, and “Fox.”

How do you share information that needs to be spelled out?  Do you use the phonetic alphabet or perhaps your own creative approach?

Charlie, Hotel, Echo, Echo, Romeo, Sierra.

Oscar, Uniform, Tango.


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